The dancing began in the cathedral.

First down the alley came the seven adult children of SeŮor and SeŮora Molina, arm in arm with their spouses.The honorees, Don Lorenzo and DoŮa Ana, followed.For they had completed fifty years of matrimony; and they had come to the cathedral to offer thanks to God; and to invoke his blessing on whatever years they had left; and to renew the solemn vows they had made half a century earlier.Their movement was as slow and stately as a kingís funeral march, yet so infused with joy that light seemed to radiate from them, and to penetrate the scores of guests who filled the cathedral.

They were followed by altar boys and a priest.Arriving at the sanctuary, they were seated directly before the high altar as a nuptial mass of thanksgiving was celebrated, with solemn song rising like clouds of incense.

The mass over, the guests drove a few blocks to a salůn for banquet and dance.We were there some twenty minutes before los Molina [ďlos MolinaĒ indicates the Molina family or couple].

When they arrived, the solemn procession of the cathedral took place again, with someone crying Ė°De pie! [Stand up!], the crowd falling silent as again the sons and daughters and spouses preceded their parents into the hall.

Arriving at the center of the room, the children and spouses closed about the parents to form a circle.A band began a slow number and the old folks danced it, there surrounded by their children, with all the gravity of the priest dancing before his altar.Slow, that is, until Don Lorenzo gave a sign to the band.Whereupon the tempo picked up, and the old folks picked up their step with it, and to the spontaneous applause of the guests showed that while age might have given them gravity, it had taken away nothing of their levity.They whirled and rocked and swayed.The number being ended, they were joined by all the sons, daughters, and spouses in a second number, after which the band retired and all fell to the meal that was then served.

Delia and I had met not long before.She, a friend of los Molina, had invited me to accompany her to their celebration.With reluctance I told her I was sorry, but I would not be much of a date because I could not dance.I had tried it from time to time, even as a teenager taken lessons, all without result.But she assured me my inability made no difference, that I should come along anyway.So I did; but I missed no opportunity to reiterate my warning that she could not expect me to dance.

The meal was simple and inexpensive, with soda pop being offered as the only beverage.But as the meal drew to a close, lo! great liters of Don Pedro, Mexicoís famous brandy, appeared on the tables.And being full of tension and apprehension about the coming dance which I could not dance, I longed to calm myself with a drop or two.Somehow we had managed to find a table where I was the only man, and as the dancing started, these mostly older ladies sat stiffly watching the swirling couples.

But finally one perky old girl said, Pass down that brandy.That did it.The brandy began to flow and all the old girls began to turn perky.A couple of them even got out to dance together, as girls will when they donít have men to dance with.

As for me, the more I took of the brandy, the more the reality of my predicament came upon me.Here I was in old Mexico, among a hall full of mexicans dancing, with a beautiful mexican lady at my side; and I knew that, no matter what warnings I had given her, she would not go home happy that night if she didnít get to dance.And, as the men danced only with their own wives, I was her only chance.

Or was I?What if some man did ask her to dance?Then I would suffer doubly, knowing I had failed her as an escort but also burning inside as I sat and watched her have fun I couldnít have.

And why couldnít I dance?It looked pretty simple from where I sat.Especially as the music was mexican and american numbers of the fifties, most of which could be danced with a simple two-step.

So, taking a large gulp of bottled fortitude, I turned to Delia.I said, Look.Iíve warned you all week that I canít dance.Never have danced.But if you want to take the risk with me, Iíll get out there and try.

She did want.And I did try.And I found, to my great surprise, that my brandy-lubricated body whirled and rocked and swayed just as the music told it to, and that Delia followed my every movement with grace.And in the magic air of this mexican night, at the age of fifty seven, I was initiated into the sacrament of dancing, and danced until cake and champagne dismissed the guests at midnight.


© 2004 Joseph Mansfield